• Nathaniel Keen

Full voice, no half measures

Musicians: Nat Keen (guitar) Ben Hazleton (double bass)

Ben and I started by playing to resident Jackie*, her positive and serene presence calmed me down after a particularly gruelling cycle to BSL. We decided to start with 'The Mountain', our interpretation of a beautiful Abdullah Ibrahim melody. Jackie's trademark smile instantly beamed out across the room as Ben bowed the melody with great sensitivity.

Last week I had tried to include Jackie in the decision-making process about which songs we could potentially perform, by suggesting that she gave us a sign, some form of facial movement. (Jackie is non-verbal, following a stroke, and has very limited physical movement but is able to express herself facially). On that occasion, my experiment wasn't very successful. Today however, I found Jackie to be far more responsive, she appeared to comprehend completely and was engaged with the questions I was asking, if the answer was yes she would instantly give an affirmative wink and an expressive twitch of her eyebrows. To me this felt like progress.

Feeling uplifted, we waddled along with our instruments into the kitchen where we found SA being spoilt by staff members, lots of playful silliness ensued including a request for 'When A Man Loves A Woman' - her favourite - which we launched into without any of the lyrics to hand! Resident JG seemed utterly unimpressed.

We were asked by a staff member if we could visit resident RG as apparently she adores music. It was the first time I'd met her and I immediately sensed her warmth. As we played, she stared intensely at me and as soon as the melody began a huge smile erupted across her face, it really felt like a special moment for all three of us. As we tried to figure out how to switch back on her TV at the end, I asked if she'd like us to visit again, she made it very clear that she would like that.

As soon as we entered the hallway of the 1st floor we bumped into resident GH, sitting in his usual spot in an armchair in front of the lifts. I asked him:

Me: 'Would you like a Beatl...'


Me: 'OK great, what key would you...


Off he went like a steam train with us clinging on for dear life, full voice, no half measures, 100% commitment, LOUD.

My intention today had been to visit R who I'd not seen for a while. When we arrived at his door, the name tag had been removed and I feared for the worse, my fear was sadly confirmed by carer Daniel. Strangely, Ben and I had been chatting earlier about losing people we'd become close to at BSL and how surreal an experience that was.

Feeling a bit shell-shocked we entered into the kitchen to find JS fulfilling his deep-set desire to help wherever he could, offering his seat, attempting to clear up the kitchen etc, we assured him we were there to entertain him. After a few rags and reels we launched into 'Don't Worry Be Happy' and a double-time version of 'Miserlou' , the rhythm was too much to resist and JS was soon up impressing the crowd with his truly expressive dance concepts.. These moments are clearly so special and necessary, not only for the residents but for the staff too. It's so clear that they love JS and were fully supporting him in his expression, but also their own, having a few moments to relax, dance and laugh must be such a relief in this line of work.

We moved upstairs as I wanted to visit AS, who seemed in a much better state emotionally than last time I visited, she informed me that her friend had been able to visit her room for 45 minutes and that relief from her isolation meant everything. We kept things light hearted with some flamenco, a repeat of 'Miserlou' and an improvised ditty about all of the many gifts that her family had brought her. I let her know about the upcoming event on Sunday and told her I'd come and find her if I didn't see her out in the garden.

We finished the day with JG and JC. This emerging friendship between next-door neighbours brings me joy as its inception was inadvertently facilitated by our music sessions. Last week JG had joined JC for a longer session and both reminisced about concerts they'd been to in the 1950s and 60s. This week JC instantly asked 'shall we invite JG to come and listen?' we played one tune to each, to suit their tastes, 'Fly Me To The Moon' for JC and 'Micheal Turner's Waltz' for JG. At the end of the session I asked JG if she'd like me to help her back to her room but they both decided they should carry on chatting and after I'd packed up my things and was leaving 15 minutes later I could still hear the two of them chewing the fat!.


*resident's name used with permission.

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